This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today held a ceremonial bill signing in Memphis for legislation that rewrites and simplifies the criminal gang offense enhanced punishment law. Gang-related crimes are of increasing concern across Tennessee, in the state’s rural and urban communities, and the bill, HB 196/SB 202, changes the definition of “criminal gang offense” from a vague and broad definition to a specific list of offenses that will make it easier for prosecutors to seek a greater sentence.
Nissan is adding 900 jobs to start making the Rogue crossover SUV at its Tennessee plant, the Japanese automaker announced Thursday. The new jobs are in addition to 800 positions added at the Smyrna plant last year, and will bring total employment at the suburban Nashville facility to more than 7,000. Hiring is already underway, and Rogue production is scheduled to begin this fall. Building the Rogue in the United States for the first time is part of the Japanese automaker’s plan to have 85 percent of vehicles sold in the U.S. produced in North America.
Nissan announced Thursday its hiring 900 workers for its Smyrna assembly plant, to start work this fall. The automaker also noted their 30th anniversary of building cars in Tennessee. The plant has grown dramatically, especially in the past few years, as Nissan tries to corner 10 percent of the American auto market. When it opened in 1983, the Smyrna plant employed around 2,000 people. Now more than 6,000 work there, making one of the largest auto factories in the country. Japanese rival Toyota has the almost same number of workers at its Georgetown, Kentucky factory.
Nissan announced today it will add at its Smyrna vehicle assembly plant more than 900 manufacturing jobs to support future production of the Rogue — a move that coincides with the 30th anniversary of the Rutherford County facility. The additions follow Nissan America’s October 2012 announcement that the company had hired more than 800 people to staff the company’s first-ever shift at the Smyrna facility. Nissan announced in 2011 it would shift the production of the Rogue to Smyrna from Japan, a move driven by the relative cost of the yen.
With the hiring of new workers for the production of the Leaf electric car and Rogue compact crossover, Nissan is on the verge of expanding the workforce at its Smyrna assembly complex to more than 7,000. About 900 contract workers will be the latest additions, Nissan said Thursday, following through on an announcement last summer that a total of 1,200 workers would be needed over the next year to assemble both the Leaf and the Rogue. Nissan also is celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Smyrna plant this year.
Nissan provided local officials a reason to celebrate Thursday when the company announced it would add 900 more jobs to build the Rogue at the Smyrna factory. “It’s great for the community,” Smyrna Town Manager Mark O’Neal said during a Thursday phone interview. “It’s great obviously for Smyrna. It’s another regional impact. Nissan continues to expand their facilities and productions. That puts them well over 7,000 jobs out there. That’s tremendous for the community. It’s tremendous for our citizens who work out there.”
Many Tennessee students are still scoring below grade level on state standardized tests, but scores are continuing to improve, results from this year’s exams show. The greatest gains this year are in science and math while progress in reading and English is lagging behind, according to state Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman. “My hope is that a year from now we will be standing up here saying math continued to grow really fast and reading grew just as fast as math,” Huffman told reporters after a press conference releasing the test results Thursday.
More than half of Tennessee’s third- through eighth-grade students are performing on grade level for the first time since 2010, state officials said Thursday, and low-income students are closing the gap with their more affluent peers. The release of statewide results of the 2013 Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program showed that students as a whole marked a third year of continued improvement, even though standardized tests were made more difficult three years ago. When the state embarked on an education-reform path, officials knew “it was going to be a marathon and not a sprint,” Gov. Bill Haslam said at an afternoon news conference.
Tennessee students in 2013 continued making strides on their Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program tests, marking three years of steady progress since tougher course requirements and testing were introduced nearly four years ago, state officials announced Thursday. “I am grateful to our students and teachers for rising to the challenge of higher standards and to parents who are investing in their children’s education,” said Gov. Bill Haslam, who joined Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman in a news conference to unveil academic year 2012-13 results.
For the third year in a row since the state raised its educational standards, Tennessee’s students have made gains on the state’s Comprehensive Assessment Program, according to data released by the state on Thursday. “This is a very positive step for our state,” said Gov. Bill Haslam. “We’ve had steady growth and progress since 2010.” The governor said the results show the state’s education system is moving toward the goal of having more students prepared for jobs, answering a common complaint he receives from the state’s business leaders.
As a whole, Tennessee students performed better on the 2013 Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program tests than the year before, marking three consecutive years of improvement, the state Department of Education announced Thursday. For the first time since Tennessee implemented more rigorous standards in 2009, more than half of students in grades 3 through 8 overall tested at grade level, defined as “proficient” or “advanced,” in every TCAP subject. The results varied by grade level. More than half of high school students, as a whole, tested proficient or advanced in five of the seven end-of-course subjects tested.
State education officials say students have continued to perform better on the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program since the state implemented more rigorous standards nearly four years ago. Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman said Thursday that students across the state performed better on the TCAP tests this year than last year, marking three consecutive years of steady improvement. Since 2009, he said more than half the students in third through eighth grades are on grade level in every TCAP achievement subject.
Tennessee standardized test scores are headed steadily upward, although math gains are now outpacing reading. TCAP test results were released Thursday. At least half of Tennessee students in grades 3 – 8 are now considered proficient or better in the three main subject areas of math, science and reading. That’s a big jump for math, while barely moving the needle in reading. There’s been a statewide emphasis on math and science instruction. Yet Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman rejects that gains in one subject come at the expense of another.
For area teachers, the move to the school year ahead began around spring break. And for many teachers in both of the county’s public school systems, the merger wasn’t the central source of their anxiety. It was the coming of the state’s Common Core standards. In a local education environment that includes a historic merger starting next week, Tennessee achievement test results released Thursday and a transition from No Child Left Behind standards to Common Core standards, the school year has started early.
Metropolitan Memphis’ unemployment rate climbed in May to 9.5 percent, a sharp rise compared to 8.9 percent one year earlier, Tennessee’s Department of Labor and Workforce Development reported Thursday. Although the recession was declared ended four years ago, Greater Memphis’ jobless rate has surpassed 9 percent every month since January 2009 except for a brief retreat in April and May 2012, when it slipped as low as 8.5 percent. Four percent is considered a sign of a healthy economy. The metro area’s rate measured 9 percent in April.
Unemployment rose in all but two Middle Tennessee counties in May, pushing the region’s jobless rate upward, according to figures released Thursday. An estimated 6.7 percent of the Nashville region’s workforce was jobless last month, up from 6.4 percent in April and 6.6 percent in May 2012, the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development reported. Unemployment rose in 11 of the region’s 13 counties, with Robertson and Smith the exceptions, from April to May. Nine Middle Tennessee counties had higher unemployment in May than a year ago.
Unemployment rose across the Chattanooga region last month as graduates entered the labor market and other students began looking for summer jobs. Despite continued signs of economic recovery, the jobless rate in the six-county Chattanooga metropolitan area jumped a half of a percent last month to 7.9 percent and was also a half percent above the local unemployment level of a year ago. In the region, only Catoosa and Walker counties in North Georgia posted a jobless rate below the national average of 7.6 percent during May.
Teachers who attend a July 8 financial literacy summit at East Tennessee State University will each receive a $50 gift card from Amazon. However, summit participants will also be getting something far more valuable: financial literacy lessons that they can teach to their students and apply to their own lives. The free summit is being sponsored by the Tennessee Financial Literacy Commission, which is administered by the Tennessee Treasury Department.
A major scrap metal processing and recycling plant on the banks of the Cumberland River in downtown Nashville has repeatedly allowed harmful pollutants to flow into the river, a review of public records shows. In at least eight of the past 10 years, PSC Metals has exceeded the concentration limits for pollutants such as lead, zinc and copper that it is allowed to discharge into the Metro Nashville stormwater system and the Cumberland River. But the company has faced just a single $500 fine as a result, according to records on file with Metro Water Services and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.
About two hours before Byron “Low Tax” Looper was found dead in a prison cell Wednesday morning, he reportedly assaulted a pregnant female counselor. An incident report from the Morgan County Correctional Complex reveals what happened in the hours before the death of Looper, who was serving a life sentence in East Tennessee for assassinating his political opponent, Sen. Tommy Burks, in 1998. The incident report accuses Looper of hitting the counselor, who was 34 weeks pregnant, in the head about 8:55 a.m. Wednesday.
Tennessee first lady Crissy Haslam has named a new chief of staff. Haslam’s office announced that current staffer Rachel Lundeen has been promoted to the top job following the departure of Christi Gibbs. Gibbs has been hired as the executive director of next year’s National Governors Association meeting in Nashville. Before joining the first lady’s office, Lundeen worked on Bill Haslam’s gubernatorial campaign and his transition team. Lundeen said in a release Thursday that she looks forward to working on the first lady’s and governor’s education initiatives and managing the governor’s mansion.
A Robertson County man is charged in a Montgomery County indictment with TennCare “doctor shopping,” or using TennCare to go to multiple doctors in a short period of time to obtain controlled substances. The Office of Inspector General, with the assistance of the Sumner and Montgomery County Sheriff’s Offices, on Thursday announced the arrest of John C. Coryell Jr., 29, of Cross Plains. He is charged with three counts of TennCare “doctor shopping,” all involving the painkiller Oxycodone, according to a state news release.
The Tennessee Judicial Nominating Commission on Thursday selected three names to submit to Gov. Bill Haslam for a recent opening in the Eastern Section of the Court of Criminal Appeals, Eastern Division. Among those selected was Chattanooga’s Boyd Patterson, former director of the city’s Gang Task Force and an assistant district attorney. “I’m honored to represent Chattanooga,” Patterson said. “In the 47-year history of the Criminal Court of Appeals, there has been only one person from Chattanooga,” he said.
A man convicted of murder 19 years ago deserves a new trial, the Tennessee Court of Appeals ruled Thursday. Edward Thomas Kendrick III may not have received such a harsh punishment — first-degree premeditated murder — had his lawyer been better, Judge Jeffrey Bivins said. In March 1994, according to court records, Kendrick loaded his 4-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son into the back seat of his car and drove to a BP Oil Store on Lee Highway in Chttanooga. He told his wife, Lisa, a cashier at the shop, to come outside.
Mike Faulk knows he has some big shoes to fill, but he believes the best tool he brings to his new circuit court judgeship is the same tool his predecessor employed — “good old common sense.” On Thursday, Gov. Bill Haslam officially appointed Faulk to complete the term of recently retired 3rd Judicial District Circuit Court Judge Kindall Lawson. Faulk, who has worn several hats during his more than three decades of practicing law, officially becomes Judge Mike Faulk on Monday, although a formal swearing-in ceremony isn’t expected until August.
Mayor Karl Dean’s administration offered the Davidson County Election Commission an opportunity Thursday to move to a nearby building downtown instead of sending most of its staff to city offices six miles away on Murfreesboro Road. But the election commission’s chairman said the downtown site doesn’t have enough space for the commission’s full staff, so both sides will keep working to find a solution. “Nothing was resolved, but they heard us,” Ron Buchanan said after he and the commission’s top administrators met with Metro Finance Director Rich Riebeling, Law Director Saul Solomon and other Dean administration officials.
Memphis motorists have until 3 p.m. Friday to get their vehicles checked before the city’s four inspection stations are shut down for good, officials said Thursday. Coupled with the closing announcement was official notification that as of Monday, Shelby County Clerk Wayne Mashburn will no longer require inspection certificates when renewing or issuing new vehicle registrations for city residents. Motorists living in areas of the county outside Memphis never have been required to undergo inspection. Mashburn said his office received a waiver from the Tennessee Department of Revenue allowing the change.
Tennessee’s two Republican senators voted in favor of the immigration reform bill. Bob Corker even sponsored a major amendment to the legislation. But several of the state’s GOP congressmen say it’s dead on arrival in the House. Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Brentwood says “comprehensive reform packages” create more problems than they solve. “I think Tennesseans want us to take up smaller bills that go through regular order and are focused on specific problems within our current immigration system.
The 101st Airborne Division is trying to save its illustrious 506th Infantry Regiment, whose origins date to World War II’s fabled “Band of Brothers,” from deactivation under the Army’s massive restructuring. The Army announced this week that at least 12 combat brigades nationwide are to be eliminated by 2017 under sweeping military reductions, among them the 4th Brigade Combat Team at Fort Campbell, Ky. The long-term reorganization seeks to reduce the Army’s size from a high of about 570,000 members at the peak of the Iraq war to 490,000 to shrink spending and reflect the country’s current military needs as wars in Iraq and Afghanistan end.
Fort Campbell officials say they are trying to preserve the lineage of the 506th Infantry Regiment. The unit is part of the brigade combat team being cut for budgetary reasons. Brig. Gen. Mark Stammer says deactivating units is just part of winding down a war. “If you fought under a flag in combat, it’s very near and dear to your heart. There will be some folks that are not as pleased with this as others, but we’ll learn, we’ll grow and we’ll continue to move on.” Stammer says the hope is to simply place the 506th in one of the other three brigade combat teams on post.
As it seeks to become a leaner operation, TVA has expanded employment buyout offers to all divisions after offering buyouts earlier this year to employees at the federal utility’s fossil plants. So far, the Coal and Engineering, Environmental, and Support Services departments have offered employees buyout options, she said. “TVA is taking action to reduce spending in light of reduced energy demands and lower revenues,” she said by email. “Each organization has been tasked with identifying areas where costs can be reduced.
An ownership group led by the Haslam family plans to sell the Tennessee Smokies baseball team to local businessman Randy Boyd. Boyd, the founder and CEO of Radio Systems Corporation, said Thursday that he’s hoping to close the deal within the next two weeks, and that owning the Smokies has been among his ambitions “for as long as I can remember.” “It is a financial investment, but it’s really more of a community investment,” he said. “I plan on keeping it ‘til I die, passing it on to my children, and hopefully they’ll pass it on to their children.”
Forty-two teaching assistant positions were tentatively rescued as the Blount County Board of Education approved its budget for the coming fiscal year Thursday evening. By elevating projected sales tax collections, board member were able to budget funding that would save the jobs of the teaching assistants. But the action is subject to approval of the Blount County Commission, said Mike Treadway, chairman of the board. The action came as board member Jim Compton proposed an amendment to the $81 million budget to adjust the tax projection, which he said would add $314,000 to the budget.
The unified Memphis and Shelby County school district and Christian Brothers University may be closing in on a long-sought arrangement that would convert Fairview Middle School into a laboratory school for the university’s Department of Education. Tentative plans call for the school to have a so-called “zero attendance zone” — to be an open enrollment school, in other words — with a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) curriculum.
In the annual Kids Count survey sponsored by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Tennessee dropped a disappointing three spots to 39th, after an encouraging jump to 36th in 2012. The results were disheartening and came despite increased efforts and improved results in many areas. The national report is based on measurements in 16 areas, and Tennessee improved in nine, held even in one and fell in six, as the effects of the recession continued to drag down the quality of life for young Tennesseans. One in four of our children lives in poverty, and one of every three children is living in a household precariously perched on the economic ladder.
The first foot soldiers of the movement looked askance at their leader, convinced he had cracked when he broke convention and engaged with an “undesirable.” Not only had he looked kindly on a woman from another culture, he had treated her with dignity. His followers weren’t happy. But Jesus didn’t flinch, didn’t waver, didn’t apologize for seeing past prejudice, seeing the humanity of the Samaritan woman at the well, ignoring and upending the cultural code that forbade Jews from associating with Samaritans. His disciples stayed quiet, recognizing their world had changed. Not so the foot soldiers of conservatism.